Evergrande challenges Disneyland with 'Child Land'

Updated 2017-08-29 09:44:33 Global Times

Domestic companies are stepping up efforts to create theme parks that can beat Disneyland. A recent example is Guangzhou-based developer Evergrande Group, which has just launched a series of theme parks called Child Land that it said may surpass Disneyland in scale.

The theme parks, targeting children aged between two and 15 years old, will "surpass" Disneyland, with each park having 33 major recreational facilities compared with 18-22 facilities that Disneylands have on average, according to a statement posted on the official website of Evergrande on Monday.

The theme parks will incorporate Chinese culture and history using world-class recreational facilities, the statement noted.

Evergrande is also confident about the market performance of these Child Lands, as it anticipates that the theme parks will attract about 15 million to 20 million visits each year.

Neither Disneyland nor Evergrande had replied to the interview requests from the Global Times as of press time.

A Shanghai-based resident surnamed Du, who has a child about one year old, said that she would "keep an eye on" Child Land.

"I think the idea is great to build a theme park that uses Chinese culture, as most theme parks are based on foreign fairy tales," she told the Global Times on Monday. "I hope Child Land won't just copy Disneyland's content."

She also added that there should be little duplication between Disneyland and Child Land. "I will take my baby to both parks in the future," she said.

But analysts the Global Times spoke to on Monday expressed doubt that Made-in-China theme parks like Child Land can really surpass Disneyland in terms of market performance or popularity.

Song Ding, an expert at the Shenzhen-based China Development Institute, said that it's complicated to quantify a theme park's influence. "It's easy for such a big company as Evergrande to create a park that is larger than Disneyland, but in terms of soft power such as management or services, Evergrande cannot prove now that it will do better than Disneyland. A theme park's success does not hinge on how big is it, and its influence needs to be tested by the market," Song told the Global Times on Monday.

He also doubted that Evergrande would meet its annual goal of more than 15 million visits a year in the short term. "This number might be achieved in 10-20 years, but it's almost impossible in a short period after opening a theme park," he said, adding that Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, a theme park-like resort in Zhuhai, South China's Guangdong Province, attracts about 7.5 million visits in 2016, the highest level in China so far.

Chen Shaofeng, deputy dean of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Peking University, said that Disneyland is merely a link in a massive global industrial chain.

"A large part of Disneyland's revenue is copyright income, as it already has a complete set of derivative products based on its gigantic intellectual property portfolio. In this sense, domestic theme parks lag far behind," Chen told the Global Times on Monday.

He also noted that as the front-end investment for theme parks is big, a domestic theme park is unlikely to make profits within the first 10 to 15 years, unless it gets government subsidies or has spin-off businesses.

Only one out of 10 domestic theme parks has become profitable yet, according to a report by chinanews.com on Monday.

Chen nevertheless said that for Evergrande, theme parks can be a "booster" for surrounding real estate projects. Evergrande's first-half revenue surged 114.8 percent year-on-year to 188 billion yuan (.37 billion), the company said in its interim financial statement on Monday.

Some of Evergrande's competitors, such as Wanda Group, are also investing in theme parks as a part of their broader corporate strategies. Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin once said in an interview with State broadcaster CCTV that Shanghai's Disneyland wouldn't make a profit in 10 or even 20 years because of competition from Wanda's theme parks.

But Song noted that companies like Evergrande are still at the stage of "imitating" Disneyland and there's no need for them to consider Disneyland as an imaginary enemy. "I think it's more important to promote technology and intellectual property than to just shout slogans," he stressed.

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